In the first reading, God says to the prophet Ezekiel it is an obligation to correct a wicked person. God said: If “you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways… I will hold you responsible.” Very strong words from God. (‘I’ will hold you responsible for the sin and ‘I’ will hold you responsible for his salvation if that wickedness leads that person to lose his soul). “If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin but you yourself will have saved your life.”
In the Gospel Our Lord explains how to correct someone. There are three steps. Firstly, correct your brother yourself and do it in private. Jesus said: “If your brother does something wrong go and have it out with him alone.” In other words, keep it private so that the wicked person’s reputation is upheld. Secondly, however, if the wicked person persists in his wickedness, Jesus said: Then “two or three witnesses are required to sustain any charge” and Jesus says: “Where two or three are gathered in My Name I Am there.” Thirdly, Jesus then says if he still does not repent the matter is brought to the attention of the church. If he still refuses to repent, Jesus said: “treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.” In other words, he is excommunicated from the church – deprived of the Sacraments.
God is telling us very clearly that we have a duty/obligation to speak the truth when there is wickedness/wrongdoing by an individual or by a body/group of people. In other words, we must not remain silent when there are attacks on innocent life when our society is going in the wrong direction when people we know are destroying themselves. Examples: Watching someone physically abuse someone without doing what we can to stop him/her. A bill in favour of prostitution was passed in Parliament in 2008. Did we remain silent or did we protest by phone or letter to parliament – did we pray? Your letter or prayers may have convinced a parliamentarian. God lost that bill by only one vote. Therefore, today in WA, prostitution is legalised.
I heard of an alcoholic who refused to admit that he had a problem. When those closest to him spoke to him individually of their concern for him he told them he did not have a problem, he was fine. He was in denial. But those closest to him being concerned for his welfare knew they had to do something. They realised they would have to somehow make him understand the reality of his illness and addiction. They decided that they would have to confront him together instead of talking to him individually. So, they arranged a surprise meeting with him and together they all confronted him with the situation of his life. It worked; he admitted his problem and agreed to get help and joined AA. It reminds me of the advice in today’s Gospel on two types of brotherly correction, firstly in private one-on-one and secondly, if that fails, with some others. One reason why we should correct a sinner is because sin often has the habit of leading to more sin.
St Paul gives us an example of that when he writes about the sin of homosexual acts. In Roman’s 1:18 to 32 we read: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodly and wicked.” “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves.” “For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse to unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.” “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.” They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil …”
In the book of James 5:19-20 we read: “You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering, will save the sinners soul and will cover a multitude of sins.” The key to today’s message is found in the Second Reading. St Paul’s letter to the Romans. St Paul writes the greatest commandment is love. When we correct someone, we do so because we love them with the love of Christ. How did Jesus correct the sinner? Christ loves us so much that, in order to correct our waywardness, He, who was innocent, took our punishment to Himself. In the same way, we must offer our lives for the sinner.
Fr Doug Harris 2020